A Concise History of Modern Europe by David S. Mason

MasonAConciseHistoryOfModernEuropeWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Charles Henderson Norman

Publisher: University Press Audiobooks (2016)

Length: 8 hours

Author’s Page

In general, this book covers happenings in Europe from 1789 (the French Revolution) through 1989 (the fall of Communism). There’s a little bit after that on the formation of the European Union and what current hurdles Europe as a whole faces. The book doesn’t focus overly on one country or another, rather covering significant events and people who shaped Europe for better or worse.

Having been raised in the American public school system, there were bits and pieces of European history that I knew some little about, but this book does a great job of putting them into perspective. I’m really glad I gave this book a listen because it makes me feel smarter for it. What follows here in my review are some of the little interesting nuggets I took from this book.

During and after the French Revolution, women demanded legal rights and some of those rights were granted; however, they were denied the right to education. Alas, then came Napoleon who was very fond of the patriarchal family hierarchy: Women and children were subject to the rule of the man of the house. Oddly, his laws on many things remain a cornerstone to French law, law within parts of Turkey, and law in the state of Louisiana. Ha! That does explain some things….

One of things that helped lead England into the Industrial Revolution was the use of turnips. Yep! Behold the mighty turnip! The English started farming turnips which did two things for them: turnips help add nutrients to the soil, so a field could be used longer; and also turnips can be fed to winter livestock, allowing the English to winterover more of the flocks instead of doing a major slaughter and preserving prior to snows setting in. Alas, boiled turnips did very little to excite Europe over English cuisine.

Karl Marx spent much of his life in poverty (along with his wife and kids) dedicated to his writings and studying so he could make more writings. He had patrons here and there that allowed him to occasionally keep a roof over his family’s head and the kids fed. Karl Marx gave us an interesting piece of political philosophy (The Communist Manifesto), but I think his family would have appreciated him having some kind of steady job instead. Only 11 people attended his funeral.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was published and it took some little time for most European countries to accept it. The US was (and perhaps still is) one of the last major world powers to accept the Theory of Evolution. Darwin happily married his first cousin and they had 10 kids together. The Crimean War was the first war covered by journalists and also the first war where women were officially allowed to serve, but only in the Nursing Corps (i.e. Florence Nightingale).

Ethiopia and Liberia avoided colonialism during the rush to claim Africa, though Liberia was primarily a colony for liberated native Africans and remained mostly under US control until they gained their freedom. In Asia, Japan remained free from colonialism while many other Asian countries (in part or in total) were colonized. I’ve always known that the term ‘first world country’ refers to places like western Europe, Canada, the US,  while the term ‘third world country’ usually refers to much of South America, Asia, and Africa. However, I didn’t know if there was a ‘second world country’, having never heard the term. Turns out that phrase refers to the communist Soviet block. One of the outcomes of World War I was the League of Nations proposed by US President Wilson. However, the US didn’t join it, nor did  Russia. Germany was prohibited from joining it until 1926. So it wasn’t particularly effective.

So those are just the little nuggets of info I pulled out of this book. I am sure there are plenty more that I would pick up on or understand better on a second read through. Mostly, I am grateful for the perspective this book gave me, how one event feeds into another. The author did a great job of providing a few key dates here and there, but not inundating the reader with a ton of dates that will be quickly forgotten. After all, this is an overview of 200+ years of European history, not a blow-by-blow recounting of it.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the narrator (via Audiobook Boom) in exchange for an honest review.

Narration: Charles Henderson Norman did a great job narrating this. He has a voice somewhere between a news reporter and a story telling uncle. His personal interest, and sometimes even joy, in the subject comes through clearly in his narration.

What I Liked: I never felt bogged down with dates, names, or places; this book really put the events in perspective; no single country was the focus of the book; I learned several interesting facts that will either boost my standing at the next work party or kill it entirely.

What I Disliked: Nothing – a great addition to European history books!

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